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Feature – Russian Invasion of Ukraine – A perspective


By David Thomas, President Safe Communities Portugal

Good morning – Having served in the police for over 30 years and subsequently worked in INTERPOL, I, like many others in policing and the military took an oath of office to protect my country, life and property. Indeed when I formed Safe Communities Portugal some 10 years ago it was mainly because the threat to life and property was threatened in the Algarve through armed overseas gangs targeting isolated residences torturing those concerned to extract details of their bank accounts.

Upon establishing Safe Communities, the association adopted that ethos to do all we could to help the security forces protect citizens of whatever nationality.

Having worked in policing and security for this period; having undertaken projects in Russia and meeting with police and security officials there; having been in the same room as Vladimir Putin (about 5 metres away) in St Petersburg and having listened to him trying to convince top security officials and ministers; that, quote “Russia would be a world leader in fighting corruption”, you can perhaps understand why the current situation concerns me a great deal – particularly where we may be heading.

Putin is an imperialist and wants to make Russia great again – probably whatever the cost. He has an ability to say something, but do the opposite. His demeanour when he spoke about raising Russia’s deterrence forces to a “special regime of combat duty”, was similar to when he spoke about corruption years ago – in simple terms not a person to cross swords with.

The response to this barbaric invasion by Russia, on the orders of President Putin, has resulted in more than 100,000 displaced people and more than one million refugees in Poland, Hungary, Moldova and Romania, including Portuguese citizens. According to the UNHCR (at the time of writing), it has resulted in 227 civilian deaths, including 15 children, and another 525 wounded, including 28 minors, in Ukraine since the beginning of the armed conflict. It has also resulted in massive damage to infrastructure, public buildings, universities and civilian residences in various towns and cities throughout the country. It has had a devastating impact on the population.

Inevitably in a war situation there will be civilian casualties as a result of residences being located close to military installations, for example, but in this case there is overwhelming evidence of Russian military strikes against residences and public buildings – an example being Freedom Square in Kharkiv a cosmopolitan city with 20 universities which was hit by a cruise missile with over 20 dead. An adviser to the President of Ukraine said on Tuesday that Russia’s attacks on residential areas were deliberate and aimed at creating panic. “The veil has fallen. Russia is actively attacking several cities, launching missiles and attacks on residential areas and administrative infrastructure. Russia’s objective is clear: to unleash panic, inflict civilian casualties and destroy infrastructure”, Mykhailo Podolyak said. 

As the Ukrainian President said: Be of little doubt “Ukraine is fighting for its survival” and needs all the support possible – time is running out.

There is some evidence of the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas and more worrying reports that according to the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States of America Oksana Markarova, that one of the worst weapons of war ‘vacuum bombs’ have been used by the Kremlin during the air strikes. The bomb in question, also known as ‘the father of all bombs’ or ‘thermobaric bomb’, was banned by the Geneva Conventions because of its devastating capacity. The longer the war lasts the likelihood is that Putting will resort to the greater use of such lethal weapons.

I therefore welcome the initiative of an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan QC announcing yesterday announcing yesterday that an investigation has commenced into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

Karim Khan said that although Ukraine was not a member of the ICC, it had awarded jurisdiction to the court. He said that there were grounds to open an investigation based on a previous preliminary investigation on Crimea and the Donbas published last year, and on current events in Ukraine.

This will take time, but the most immediate concern is to restore peace in Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian forces. Clearly from all accounts the invasion is not going to plan, and with considerable resistance by the Ukrainians on the streets defending their country, Russian forces are suffering a higher number of casualties than was likely expected by Vladimir Putin. A possible consequence of this could be the greater use of missile strikes used in an in-discriminatory way causing additional civilian casualties.

Time is of the essence therefore in avoiding the fall of Ukraine to Russian forces, without resulting in a military escalation by Russia that could have European or even global consequences. What happens if Ukraine falls into Putin’s hands?

Putin’s next steps are anyone’s guess, but could possibly be a blockade of Kyiv, remaining in place until Ukraine surrenders on terms demanded by Putin. His aim as recorded yesterday in a call with the French President Emmanuel Macron, was to “de-Nazify Ukraine” which was taken as meaning as seizing control of the whole country, “with worst to come”. Certainly the increase in the intensity of bombardments and increasing areas affected appears to bear this out.

Putin, however, has clearly underestimated the resolve of the global community, which is united and mobilised in its support of Ukraine, through unprecedented sanctions levied against any country, ironically in this case, one that has membership of the UN Security Council. If anyone needs any evidence of this then listen to the speech of European Parliament President Roberta Metsola at the special European Council meeting – a truly empowering speech. She said afterwards “What has to emerge tonight is that the European Union and its member states will continue to act in unison, that we have the political will and the strategic capacity to stand up to the threat posed by Russia and that we will not leave Ukraine alone. That we show solidarity with Ukraine”.

“Doubt, fear and instability are part of Putin’s arsenal. Our shields must be our fundamental principles, our determination and our solidarity with Ukraine and among member states. The fact is that this was not our making. We did not provoke. We did not start a new war on our continent”.

The effect on the Ukrainian population has been devastating. Apart from the casualties, families have been torn apart, women, children and the elderly that cannot escape, living in bunkers underground and many psychologically traumatised.

Apart from the tragedy in Ukraine, all countries are affected by this invasion including Portugal, for example through receiving refugees from Ukraine; our commitment to NATO, and through closures of airspace with Russia. But the effect on the Russian people is far greater. The Kremlin is cracking down on any form of opposition to the invasion with many already being detained. Russia is suffering as well in this senseless war; its people are suffering economically as well as through non-participation in international sports and many other forms of international collaboration. The invasion of Ukraine has already left Russia isolated internationally and will pose a reputational problem for several decades and generations to Russia.

Russia, and in particular Putin, has become a pariah and this will have long term global security, as well as economic, political and social, consequences regardless of the outcome of the Ukraine invasion. We are at a changing point in history!

This article appears in the Portugal News on Thursday 4th February, for which I thank the Editor.